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Northwestern DA still withholding some names of police accused of misconduct

Police vehicles in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Northampton Police Department
Police vehicles in Northampton, Massachusetts.

When police officers have been disciplined for misconduct or a lack of credibility, that is evidence that prosecutors then have to disclose to anybody facing criminal charges involving that officer. They’re known as “Brady disclosures” after a landmark Supreme Court ruling requiring district attorneys to disclose any potentially exculpatory evidence for defendants to scrutinize.

However, one western Massachusetts district attorney is continuing to keep private some of the names of officers who have Brady disclosures on their records.

Last month, the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office turned over some of its Brady disclosures to NEPM, releasing 28 disclosures that stemmed from internal investigations individual police departments had conducted.

District Attorney David Sullivan had previously blacked out police officers’ names on those documents when responding to public records requests. But after a recent ruling from the state’s top court confirmed that documents related to police misconduct investigations should be public, Sullivan released those records without redactions.

However, Sullivan is continuing to withhold Brady disclosures for officers accused of criminal offenses. His office initially said they were still assessing how that Supreme Judicial Court ruling might change its obligation to release those documents. Then, last week, the DA’s office said it won’t turn over those disclosures. At least not at the moment.

In a statement, Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Von Flatern told NEPM that the documents in question contain “criminal offender record information,” often referred to as CORI, which is protected from public disclosure. She said that the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office is waiting on a judge to rule on that claim in a lawsuit that an independent journalist, Andrew Quemere, filed against Sullivan last year over his redacting of police officers’ names in Brady disclosures.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Quemere said he wasn’t surprised that Sullivan is continuing to shield some of his office’s Brady disclosures from public scrutiny.

“This shows the power imbalance in the public-records law because I am represented by a pro-bono law clinic, meanwhile the district attorney’s office has essentially unlimited money to spend on limiting transparency,” Quemere said.

He said Sullivan has employed two private attorneys with taxpayer money to fight Quemere’s lawsuit seeking unredacted Brady disclosures.

“That money could go toward something productive instead of using the public’s money to fight the public essentially,” he said.

NEPM previously obtained redacted copies of all of the DA’s office’s Brady disclosures in late 2022.

Some of the criminal charges police officers were facing back then have already been reported publicly. Those include cases like that against former Bernardston and Buckland police officer Jacob Wrisley, who in February pleaded guilty to eight child pornography charges, according to the Greenfield Recorder.

Other cases, however, don't appear to have entered the public domain. The redacted documents that the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office released in September 2022 contained a wide range of criminal charges against officers: a Leverett officer facing allegations of assault and battery on a family or household member, for example, and a Montague officer charged with assault and battery on a child with injury.

Domestic assault allegations and charges of operating under the influence account for a significant portion of the disclosures in those records.

Dusty Christensen is an investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He currently teaches news writing and reporting at UMass Amherst.
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